Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, Along With U.S. Scientists, Discover Troubling Link Between a Common Food Preservative and the Obesity and Diabetes Crisis

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Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer researcher Dr. Amir Tirosh and a team of scientists from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital published findings showing that a widely used chemical preservatives, propionate, in food could be contributing to the increased rates of obesity and diabetes. A study published this week in the Science Translational Medical Journal demonstrates this link.

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One such factor that warrants attention is the extensive use of chemicals in the processing, preservation, and packaging of foods. We are exposed to hundreds of these chemicals on a daily basis, and most have never been tested for their long-term metabolic effects.

Groundbreaking research published in the Science Translational Medical Journal this week details a connection between a common food preservative called propionate and the increased risk of obesity and diabetes. The study was conducted jointly between researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer.

Diabetes is increasing in prevalence worldwide, and its rising prominence has suggested that this is due largely to external factors, such as diet and environment.

In this study, the researchers examined propionate, a food preservative that is used to extend the life of baked goods, such as bread or cake, by inhibiting the growth of mold. Researchers administered the preservative to mice and discovered that it set off a chain reaction that resulted in a hormonal surge, producing more glucose and ultimately hyperglycemia, which is a defining characteristic of diabetes.

When the researchers gave the mice an amount of propionate that equaled the amount used in a serving of food, the mice gained weight and developed an insulin resistance.

Following this study, the researchers conducted a double-blinded placebo-controlled study on 14 healthy humans. Those who had ingested propionate showed higher levels of certain hormones, including glucagon, indicating that the additive plays a role in the metabolic process and could potentially be contributing to the rise of obesity and diabetes.

“The dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity and diabetes over the past 50 years cannot be attributed to genetic changes, and involve contributing environmental and dietary factors,” said Dr. Amir Tirosh, Director of the Institute of Endocrinology at Sheba Medical Center and one of the researchers of this study.“One such factor that warrants attention is the extensive use of chemicals in the processing, preservation, and packaging of foods. We are exposed to hundreds of these chemicals on a daily basis, and most have never been tested for their long-term metabolic effects.”

Though propionate has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this study suggests that alternative methods for food preservation should be explored.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Dr. Tirosh, please contact Jodie Singer at jodie(at)redbanyan.com.

About Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer
Born together with Israel in 1948, Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer is the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East. Sheba is the only medical center in Israel that combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on one campus, and it is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, research and education. As a university teaching hospital affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University, it welcomes people from all over the world indiscriminately. In 2019, Newsweek magazine named Sheba one of the top ten hospitals in the world. To learn more, visit: eng.sheba.co.il.

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